GUIDE TO THE RIVER AVON
(Chippenham to Melksham)
NAME OF RIVER: Avon (Wiltshire/ Somerset).
WHERE IS IT?: The river Avon flows from above the ancient town of Malmesbury through Wiltshire and Somerset to the Severn Estuary and Avonmouth near Bristol.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Chippenham: There are plenty of places to park in Chippenham but most of them are pay and display. The best places are either: At the public car park near to The Technical College, follow signs for the station. The river is down the hill in the park. Or take the new bridge over the river off the A4 Avenue la Fleche, there is parking on both sides of the road and the river and Chippenham Weir are nearby.
Reybridge/ Lackham Agricultural College: Drive to Reybridge which is just off the A350 between Melksham and Chippenham. Park next to the river bridge or enter the college grounds using the back entrance nearby, and park at the wide section of road just inside the grounds, the river is across the fields to the right.
Melksham: Drive into Melksham from the roundabout where the A350 meets the B3107. Follow the one way system around keeping to the left, this will take you over the river bridge. Take the first left into the car park, remember that it is pay and display (not Sundays). Find a way through the railings to the river.
APPROX LENGTH: 15 km.
TIME NEEDED: 2.5 hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: In most cases there are no access problems with this river, apart from a couple of cases mentioned in the text below. The River Advisors are: Julie Simson, 35 Gooch Street, Swindon, Wilts. SN1 2BA from source to Bath; and Alan Gallop, 12 Broadcroft, Chew Magna, Bristol, BS18 8QC from Bath to Avonmouth.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Take a look at some of the weirs on the section that you intend to do to get an indication of water level.
GRADING: Flat with weirs and occasional boulder dams and faster moving water.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Weirs, and trees on the upper stretches.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: The Chippenham to Melksham stretch has only three weirs. The first in Chippenham itself is a steep five foot drop with shallow water at the bottom and a low bridge above it. We have shot it several times in low water conditions. The agreed technique is to take it sideways to avoid hitting the bottom or clouting the back end on the bridge. I remember a friend of mine taking the weir too straight and emerging with a shopping trolley firmly wedged on the nose of his boat. Beneath the weir their a couple of small rapids which used to be the site of the Chippenham slalom.
The next weir at Reybridge is about 3 miles further downstream. This weir is a lot more fun, we often drive into Lackham Agricultural College grounds and walk across the fields to the weir just to play on this one. The weir slopes quite gently and forms a nice stopper for performing flats spins or just bouncing around in it. The weir is only worth visiting after a fair amount of rain though. Just around the corner is a sluice gate with fast moving water and a pour over which can provide entertainment in the right water conditions. One of the houses nearby is Camilla Parker-Bowls' residence, so don't trespass unless you are a member of the royal family, in which case you could perhaps pop in for a nice cup of Earl Grey and some cucumber sandwiches. We have been paddling here for ages and had never been challenged until a few weeks ago (September 99) by a fisherman who said we needed a parking permit, so it may be better to park at the river bridge until we have sorted this out.
Martin Harrell (update Feb 2004)...'We went to the weir at Reybridge at the weekend only to discover that it has been modified. It used to be a simple large sloping stone slide. Now one half of it has been replaced with some big ugly concrete steps and a steel sluice gate which appears to be hinged at the bottom but doesn't look like it has any hydraulics in place yet. It looks as if work hasn't been completed (there was a crane and digger there), so the weir could change further still. The net effect of this change has been that the water is more concentrated to the sloping side of the weir, this could well make the weir more useable at lower levels. Sadly there is a tree stuck about 10m below the weir with the main chute of water washing straight into it, this makes it unsafe to use the best part of the weir at the moment. Hopefully high water will move the tree, otherwise we will have to try rope and pulleys. I'll be keeping an eye on proceedings to see if they steel gate becomes active. There is a nice concrete slope under it, which should create an interesting feature if there is ever water flowing on it.
After leaving the weir we paddled the 1km down to Lacock and made another discovery. There is a small stream that flows in from the right about halfway along this stretch. It culminates in a little weir right at its confluence with the Avon. The rain we'd had on Friday had brought the little stream up and there was a nice little stopper on the weir, perfect for beginners to whitewater. I'd known about the stream before but I'd not paddled that section after rain, normally we just use the main weir at Reybridge and then leave. It was a nice little find and I've made a mental note to visit the section again immediately after heavy rain, rather than two days after.'
It's four miles of winding flat water down to Melksham where it is best to get out on the left before the weir. Melksham weir is not really worth considering, it is vary much like Chippenham Weir in that it is steep and shallow underneath, best just to leave it really. You can also continue below Melksham.
OTHER NOTES: A flat touring river which is better suited to canadians and novices than the white water canoeist. Some of the weirs are playable but most are just straight drops. The upper sections are best done after some rain otherwise they are a long slog. The section from Bradford on Avon to Bath makes a good summer or low water trip. It is probably possible to paddle above Malmesbury, but I have little knowledge of this part of the river.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Martin Harrall.